Revealed: Shock food bank figures show worst affected counties of Northern Ireland
New figures have shown more than 30,000 emergency packages were given out by foodbanks in Northern Ireland between April 2017 and March 2018.
The study has been produced by charity the Trussell Trust, which runs the UK's only nationwide network of foodbanks.
In the report, the new system of Universal Credit - gradually being rolled out to replace a host of means-tested benefits and tax credits - is singled out as a factor fueling foodbank increases.
It shows food bank usage in areas where Universal Credit has been in place for a year were four times as busy, and saw a 52% increase in the number of three-day emergency food packages distributed.
Across the UK there is a continuation of the upward trend in foodbank usage, growing from 346,992 three-day food packages given out in 2012/13, up to 1,332,952 given out in the 2017/18 period.
In the past year the nationwide number of three-day food packages given out has increased by around a 150,000 - an increase of 13% on the previous year.
In Northern Ireland in the period 2017/18 a total of 32,433 three-day emergency food packages were handed out by the Trussell Trust network, a 1% decrease on 2016/17.
Of these, 19,144 were given to adults, while 13,289 were given to children.
Co Antrim, accounting for the Belfast area, saw almost three times as many three-day emergency food packages given out compared to Co Down, the second most affected area.
Co Fermanagh saw the smallest number of three-day food packages being distributed, with 394.
The biggest cause for foodbank referral in the province was listed as 'low income - benefits, not earning'.
Low income accounted for 45% of referrals in Northern Ireland, with benefit delays (12%) and benefit changes (12%) also significant reasons for referrals.
Tony Graham, director of Northern Ireland for the Trussell Trust, said: “No-one in Northern Ireland should be left hungry or destitute – illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.
“Any decrease in the need for foodbanks, however small, is welcome. While the benefits freeze is currently ongoing in Northern Ireland, we hope the flexibilities and mitigations which support people on the lowest incomes are leading to a deceleration in foodbank use.
South Belfast Green Party MLA Clare Bailey said: "People need foodbanks to survive mainly because they live on low incomes or are experiencing benefit changes or delays.
“It’s entirely unacceptable that families with children in South Belfast are forced to use emergency food supplies to get through the day.
"That’s why I’m backing the Trussell Trust’s call for more flexibilities for people with limited capacity for work and a yellow card system for sanctioning."
In its report, the Trussell Trust calls for a 'yellow car warning system' to limit sanctioning, especially on families with dependent children or people with disabilities, something it hopes would "limit the negative impact caused by unfair sanctioning".
Belfast Telegraph Digital